artists' books

SA satire, well below the panty line


THE FILTHY OBSCENITY of ratified apartheid legislation in South Africa put a very special and specific spin on the meaning of taboo. This was never pornography in the traditional sense, because that form of sexual gratification was deemed completely verboten. Rather, what you got under the apartheid regime was a transgression of basic moral codes of behaviour, shunted behind closed doors and slimy hypocrisy. This has been the central premise to the work ethic of Anton Kannemeyer for more than 25 years, and his extraordinarily fine and searing publication of erotic drawings, now in its second edition, brings many of your most favourite, most ghastly, images together between two covers.

But don’t be mistaken, as he’s done since his Bitterkomix and Gif years in the 1990s, Kannemeyer – aka Joe Dog in the former spoof on comics for Afrikaans-speaking adults – uses the concept of ‘erotica’ with as much biting irony as he wields his drawing instrument, and while a traditional understanding of erotic art is something, explained in Antjie Krog’s excellent introduction, “supposed to disturb the borders between the desire and the hidden, the acceptable and the taboo”, this teeters on the edge of hard core pornography.

But none of it is there to titillate. There are no coy bikinis here, big enough to cover the strategic bits and small enough to be erotic. Rather, you get extrapolations on all kinds of completely revolting intercourse in ways that may cause you to cringe or gape, laugh a little shame-facedly or turn pages rapidly. No holds – or holes – are barred in these sketchy, vicious little pieces of lewdness, in pen and ink and in full colour, which sees everything from auto-eroticism to gang banging, pulling every conceivable aesthetic punch right off the page. Indeed, the nifty motif of the penis with its own legs and wings (and penis) scratching itself like a dog, on the book’s cover and frontispiece, gives you a sniff of what you can expect in this book, but resonates more with the cute subtlety in the margins of medieval texts than with the torsions concerning sex that resonate with apartheid and its layers of rabid hypocrisy.

It is not, however, for the prettiness of the drawings that you will want to access this work. And your laughter of shame may need to be psycho-analysed. Kannemeyer’s is an essay in political taboo. He’s an artist, of the ilk of the generation of Ryk Hattingh and Conrad Botes – as well as Johannes Kerkorrel and Steven Cohen – who took the ratty, prohibitive, stupid and broken values imposed upon them by apartheid strictures and turned them inside out. Violently. And armed with that understanding you come away from these bits of extreme fornication, excretion and abuse with a kind of a bruised grin on your face.

The energetic level of “undermining” – in Krog’s description – that Kannemeyer imbibes, is completely and aggressively irreverent and heady, tossing together imperatives with secret filth and bringing it all out into the world for all to see and drool over. The erotic drawings of Anton Kannemeyer is not everyone’s proverbial cup of tea, but it doesn’t need to be. It will offend many, as it must. It’s a beautiful testimony to the viciousness and oft hilarious vulnerability of officialdom, the Afrikaans-language and the values of the naked good girl and the bad guy in a suit.

  • The erotic drawings of Anton Kannemeyer comprises drawings by Anton Kannemeyer and an introduction by Antjie Krog. It is designed by Gabrielle Guy and published by Stevenson Gallery (2014). Its second edition launched at Love Books in Melville, Johannesburg during November, a companion piece to The erotic drawings of Conrad Botes, published by Soutie Press (2019).

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